Geography in Ancient Literature


  • The ancient vast subcontinent of India was popular as Bharatavarsha (the land of Bharata), which was the part of southern Jambudvipa.

Geography of India in Indian Literature

  • The Geography of India that played a significant role in shaping ancient Indian history has been described much expressively in ancient Indian literature.

  • The term 'India' was first used by the Achaemenid Persians to the region watered by the River Sindhu.

  • The Sapta-Sindhu, referring to the region of the seven rivers of the Saraswati.

  • Zend-Avesta (which is the sacred book of Parasis), uses the term Sapta-Sindhu for India.

  • The Greeks uses the term ‘Indos’ for the river Sindhu subsequently borrowed the term from the Persians.

  • Herodotus, the famous Greek historians, used the term 'Indos' to the kshatrapy of the Persian Empire. Gradually, Greek and Roman writers begin to use this term for the whole country.

  • Chinese used the term Tien-Chu or Chuantu for India during the first century A.D.

  • Hiuen-Tsang promotes the term Yin-Tu to refer India.

  • Following are the distorted forms of ‘Sindhu’ −

    • Hindu in Persian

    • Indos in Greek,

    • Hoddu in Hebrew,

    • Indus in Latin, and

    • Tien-chu in Chinese.

  • I-Tsing, a Chinese scholar says − "Hindu is the name used only by the northern tribes and the people of India themselves do not know it".

  • I-Tsing mentioned other terms such as Arya-desa and Brahmarashtra for India.

  • In the sixth century B.C., for the first time, Panini mentioned the term ‘Bharata’ for a region, which was only one out of 22 Janapadas (specified from Kamboja to Magadha in Northern India).

  • Buddhist literature speaks of seven Bharata regions (Sapta-Bharatas) corresponding to the ancient Sapta-Sindhu.

  • During 150 B.C. (at the time of Patanjali), a region was named as Aryavarta. It was the region in the northern part of India lying between the Himalayas and the Pariyatraka or the western part of the Vindhyas and on the west, it was bounded by the Aravalli and on the east by the Kalakavana or the Rajmahal Hills.

Influences of Geography on Indian History

  • The geographical features of a region influence people’s activity and his interactions with nature and other groups in different ways.

  • The mountains, rivers, oceans form the natural boundaries of a geographical region. A person develops his living habits and mode of thinking as per his surroundings.

  • The Indian subcontinent is a vast geographical region with well-defined natural barriers in the form of the Himalayas in the north and coastal boundaries on the three remaining sides.

  • Pilgrimage and places of worship are distributed throughout the country.

  • Cultural bonds gave a sense of unity and nationality to all Indians

  • There are several regions, which have a distinct sense of regional spirit and cultural traits.

  • Larger kingdoms and empires rose from these units and weakened, in due course, giving way to another unit to come up.

  • The Chakravarti was a concept of conquest that aspires the kings to grow their kingdom and to rule the whole country.

  • The early conquerors from the north-west, such as Indo-Greeks, Saka-Pallavas, Kushanas, etc., established the kingdoms and empires in the western part of India, but never shown their eagerness to adopt Indian ideas of polity and willingness to assimilate themselves in the main stream of the Indian society.

  • The old kingdoms of Kosala, Magadha, Gauda, Vanga, Avanti, Lat, and Saurashtra in the north, and Kalinga, Andhra, Maharashtra, Kamataka, Chera, Chola, and Pandya in the southern part had ruled for long period human history and seem to possess eternal lives.

  • People living along coast line were experts in maritime activities. They developed trade relations with other countries as well.

  • Cholas dynasty, in the south, had attempted to conquer lands beyond the sea.

  • Although Indians had spread in many parts of the known world, but in the South East Asia, they developed a lasting cultural influence in the countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc. It was due to individual efforts by traders and princes and not by any State.

  • The Indian traders not only gave their religion and philosophy to the people of other countries (mentioned in the above point), but also assimilated themselves in their religion and philosophy as well.

  • The geographical features of India, therefore, not only shaped its history and culture, but also the mind and thoughts of the people.